A federal judge in Virginia has dismissed indictments against six linguistic recruiters accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Army by providing unqualified interpreters under a $703 million contract, finding the nine-year delay before the indictment had violated their due process rights.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said in court that she was “shocked” by the case and dismissed charges against all six defendants with prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought again without an appeal.
The allegations started with the increase of troops in Afghanistan between 2009-2012 and the need for Dari and Pashto speakers who could be granted top-secret security clearances. Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) was granted a $679 million contract to provide linguists. Linguists stood to make over $200,000 a year, and successful recruiters got bonuses of $250 to $2,500.
Problems were discovered at FedSys, a subcontractor for MEP where the six defendants worked. A recruiter named Abdul Aman, after being fired by FedSys and accused of helping people cheat, emailed his superiors at FedSys and MEP saying such fraud was rampant. The subcontractor fired the entire team of 20, including the six defendants, and MEP fired FedSys. According to government records, in 2014, the U.S. Army temporarily blocked FedSys and MEP from contracting work.
The case was investigated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, whose mission is to investigate possible fraud, waste, and abuse of U.S. spending in Afghanistan. Internal documents indicate such problems were rampant and involved billions of dollars.
Scrutiny centered on the recruiters, mostly Afghan immigrants themselves, who found potential linguists for the contracting firms and set up their initial phone interviews.
Rafi Anwari, one of the defendants in the case, was offered a job recruiting Dari and Pashto linguists to work with U.S. troops in Afghanistan during the 2009 surge. Over a decade later, Anwari and five others, including his wife, were accused of helping those linguists cheat on language-skills exams to win bonuses for themselves and were told they could go to prison for contributing to a multimillion-dollar fraud. By the time the case was set for trial, Brinkema said the government could not argue troops were endangered.
Brinkema said that if recruiters brought in unqualified candidates, it should have been discovered by the contractors before those people ended up in Afghanistan, and that there was no way for the recruiters to defend themselves after so much time.
“There probably are many culprits in this case who should be prosecuted, but it’s not these people,” Brinkema said.
“It was an extraordinary moment,” said Joshua Berman, an attorney who represented Anwari pro bono. “Justice was actually done here.”
“Our loyalty to this country was questioned,” Anwari said in a statement. “It’s been hanging over our head,” he added. “But I always had faith that the truth would come out.”
Author: Weiner, Rachel
News summaries © copyright 2020 SmithBucklin